Traditionalist outing gathers pace as formal decisions on future of The United Methodist Church postponed until 2024 – Baptist News Global


The Future of The United Methodist Church won’t be officially decided until 2024, thanks to a third postponement of its church-wide legislature, but traditionalists have chosen not to wait any longer, officially starting their breakaway denomination on May 1.

After two years of coronavirus-related delays, what seemed like just minutes passed between two momentous announcements on March 3:

  • The 2020 General Conference, already postponed twice due to COVID-19, has been postponed a third time to 2024 due to the ongoing pandemic, exacerbated by a massive backlog of visa applications for international delegates.
  • A “transitional leadership council” met on May 1 to launch a new traditionalist denomination, the World Methodist Church.

Traditionalists chafe at delays

Keith Boyette

Traditionalists chafed at the repeated delays of the General Conference. Keith Boyette, a retired minister who chairs the GMC’s “transition board”, expressed his frustration in a press release. Boyette is also president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, the seven-year unofficial Conservative caucus that developed the Methodist Church worldwide.

The WCA and its collaborators, such as longtime conservative caucuses Good News and the Confessing Movement, have been campaigning for more than two years for the UMC to enact an independently negotiated separation agreement known as the Protocol for the reconciliation and grace through separation. Negotiated in late 2019 by an ad hoc group of church leaders from various UMC factions, the protocol has been touted as a primary tool for peacefully dividing the church after half a century of acrimonious debates over accepting Christians LGBTQ. The UMC officially declares homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people as clergy. The language of prohibitions involves the rejection of gay men almost exclusively.

Traditionalists lobbied for approval of the protocol for another reason: It would provide $25 million in start-up funds over four years specifically for a “traditionalist denomination,” though it would also earmark $2 million for “others.” expressions” of Methodism. Now, however, that golden nest egg has shifted farther into the future, and frustrated traditionalists seem willing to give up their start-up capital, which many grassroots United Methodists have seen as a ransom for leaving the denomination, in favor of immediate ecclesiastical control. .

“Many United Methodists have become impatient with a denomination that is clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” Boyette said in the GMC press release. “Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free from divisive and destructive debates and have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident that many existing congregations will join the New World Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will spring up as faithful members leave the UM Church and merge into new congregations.

What will the split really mean?

Boyette’s optimism about how many churches will join the GMC may be premature, however. To date, 90 American congregations out of 30,000 churches have requested disaffiliation from the UMC under existing rules, and not all of them have been traditionalist-leaning. Until and unless things change in 2024, dissenting congregations may disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church with the approval of their annual (regional) conferences by paying all unfunded pension commitments plus two years of “equitable” contributions for church-wide ministries. . The arrangement would allow the disaffiliated congregation to retain its local property, which is otherwise held in trust for the annual conference. In one case, for the progressive Grandview Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the price of freedom from UMC’s anti-LGBTQ rules was around $900,000.

Not all traditionalist congregations are heading to the Methodist World Church either. Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., recently voted to disaffiliate but intends to join the Free Methodist Church.

To date, 90 US congregations out of 30,000 churches have requested disaffiliation from the UMC under existing rules.

Why General Conference Was Delayed Again

The March 3 announcement of a third General Conference postponement ended weeks of anxious speculation over whether the twice-postponed conclave would take place this year from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7 in Minneapolis. Ultimately, the continued waves of coronavirus variants had less influence on the third delay than the huge backlog of US State Department visa applications.

A press release describes the obstacles: “Commission members received a report based on conversations with several US State Department officials outlining the huge backlog of visa applications in some areas. This backlog has resulted in wait times of up to over 800 days to schedule an initial interview. In addition, commission members described an increasingly complex interview process in some areas requiring two or three interviews, which also creates a hurdle that would prevent many delegates outside of the United States from attending. America.

The press release quotes General Conference Commission Chair Kim Simpson as saying, “The decision to postpone once again was extremely difficult, with many factors to consider – including visas and passports. , the health and safety of delegates, volunteers and other participants, vaccination rates, and the need for arrangements for quarantine or medical care if delegates contract COVID-19. »

Other changes brought about by the delay

The commission’s announcement also hinted that the 2024 meeting will not be held in Minneapolis. “Another significant benefit of postponing General Conference from 2020 to 2024 is that the Commission has already secured a venue for what would have been the regularly scheduled quadrennial event. A location announcement will be released as soon as the required logistical planning is complete.

Previously, the 2024 General Conference was scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, as the conclave’s first venue outside the United States. However, some United Methodists say they fear going to Nairobi because Kenya’s anti-gay laws would put LGBTQ delegates at risk.

Some United Methodists say they fear going to Nairobi because Kenya’s anti-gay laws would put LGBTQ delegates at risk.

The continued postponement of General Conference has pinched the denomination in many ways. For starters, no changes can be made to the 900 pages Book of Discipline, the body of Church law and policy that governs the theology and operations of the UMC. This means that legislating any adjustment will have to wait until 2024 to be enacted and probably longer to be implemented.

The postponement also weighs heavily on United Methodist bishops, the top administrators of the church bureaucracy. According to Disciplinethe election of new Episcopal leaders in the United States can only take place at jurisdictional conferences held after The General Conference meets. Bishops who were due to retire in the past two years have left active service with no successors in place.

Thus, bishops in every U.S. jurisdiction are doubling their assignments, administering more than one annual conference over great distances. For example, Bishop Kenneth Carter currently oversees two conferences separated by hundreds of miles: Florida, covering the peninsular state from Key West to Tallahassee, and western North Carolina based in Charlotte. Bishop Grant Hagiya oversees both California-Pacific, which stretches west from Southern California to Guam, and Desert-Southwest, which stretches from southern Nevada to Guam. east through Arizona to New Mexico.

Despite the Disciplines constraints, the delay of the Third General Conference has fueled speculation that bishops will push for jurisdictional conferences to be held in late summer or fall 2022 so that episcopal elections can take place.

Resetting the timetable

As frustrating as the latest postponement is for many United Methodists, the decision to wait until at least 2024 goes beyond anxiety over this year’s schedule. According to a recent ruling by the UMC’s ‘high court’, the Judicial Council, the new postponement also resets the timeline for submitting proposals to amend the Book of Discipline. So alternatives to Protocol, along with everything else in the church’s law book, are up for grabs again.

Progressives, who are already a minority under the UMC’s “big tent,” could also suffer more setbacks when and if General Conference does take place in 2024. Technically, delegates elected to the 2020 General Conference are still eligible to serve in the 2024 session. (A wave of centrist and progressive U.S. delegates were elected to the 2020 conclave after a special 2019 General Conference in which UMC prohibitions against homosexuality were tightened .)

However, annual conferences may decide to elect new slates of delegates for 2024, which is legal under the Discipline. Things could swing in the direction of the progressives if the continued decline in membership in the United States is offset by rising membership in African countries. If the ratio of traditionalist delegates reached 66%, progressives would have very little chance of passing legislation, writes Jeremy Smith of the Hacking Christianity blog.

So while there are sighs of relief at a third postponement of General Conference, the decision also kicks the formal dissolution box of The United Methodist Church further down a road strewn with pitfalls as the institution itself continues to erode through disaffiliation.

Cynthia B. Astle is a veteran journalist who has covered The United Methodist Church worldwide at all levels for more than 30 years. She is the editor of United Methodist Insight, an online journal she founded in 2011.

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